There was a time when hardly anyone took user experience designers seriously. User interface designers loathed the idea that there would be yet another source of criticism. Developers doubted that the young profession adds anything of value, and even UX designers themselves weren’t so sure about the merits of their work.
In this ill-wishing environment, deliverables were the best way how to measure the contribution of user experience design. Soon after, UX designers found themselves in the deliverables business, spending most of their time on documentation, instead of delivering results and solutions. The word suffocation comes to mind when describing this period.
It was clear that UX design needs to evolve, and Lean UX seemed like the obvious next step. In Lean UX, “Traditional documents are discarded or, at the very least, stripped down to their bare components, providing the minimum amount of information necessary to get started on implementation. Long, detailed design cycles are eschewed in favor of very short, iterative, low-fidelity cycles, with feedback coming from all members of the implementation team early and often,” says Jeff Gothelf, a speaker and thought leader on the future of user experience design.
Think, Make, Check, Repeat
The main goal of Lean UX is to bring the true nature of our work to light faster while spending as little time on deliverables and as much time on the actual experience that’s being designed as possible. “Lean UX is basically ‘think/make/check/repeat’, where you are constantly iterating through cycles where you take learnings from the previous launch/release/code freeze/feedback cycle and continue working through important features, business challenges, and customer needs,” explains the Lean UX process Tim Jaeger, a veteran interaction designer, in his in-depth answer on Quora.
A lean design of an app, website, or physical product often starts as a simple sketch on a whiteboard. There, it goes through many of its first feedback cycles. At this initial stage, UX testing sets up basic guide rails that help the project not only stay on course. It also reach the final destination as fast as possible.
Small Tests Yield the Best Results
Based on Jakob Nielsen’s research, we know that “elaborate usability tests are a waste of resources.” As Jakob writes in his blog post, “The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.” Generally, the more tests you run, the fewer testers are necessary to give you good results.
Users experience designers often find it difficult to replace complex wireframes and perfectly aligned annotations with rough whiteboard sketches and scribbled notes. These same UX designers are still stuck in the old process-oriented mindset. They need to learn how to eliminate waste by focusing on results. Usually, this involves replacing unnecessarily complex tools with something as basic as a whiteboard or napkin. It also involves a substantial focus on team cooperation and communication. Lean UX marks the end of solitary UI designers who would spend weeks falling in love with their visions before they testing how they work on real users.
Lean UX is applicable everywhere where success depends on the ability to quickly deliver a working product that meets all critical requirements. What’s perhaps most surprising is that many businesses and individuals already use Lean UX as the foundation of their creative process. They just don’t know that using a whiteboard to brainstorm ideas and come up with effective solutions is a full-fledged approach to user experience design.